NL West preview: Can the Padres overtake the Dodgers? What’s next for Giants, Diamondbacks? And then there’s the Rockies
Our countdown to MLB Opening Day continues with a deep dive on the National League West.
Baseball season is right around the corner, which means it’s time for divisional previews! To get you ready for MLB Opening Day on March 30, Yahoo Sports is rolling out our thoughts on each division, including a quick recap of the offseason and best- and worst-case scenarios for each team.
We’ve already covered the AL East, NL East, AL Central, NL Central and AL West. The series concludes with the National League West.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Projected record (per PECOTA, as of March 23): 94-68
Dodgers lead baseball (sounds about right) … in net WAR loss from 2022 (oh, that’s new)
Dodgers and Red Sox effectively swap DH-ish dudes Justin Turner and J.D. Martinez
Dodgers give one-year deals to Shelby Miller, Noah Syndergaard, Clayton Kershaw (that one was probably just a formality)
Gavin Lux to miss the entire season after tearing ACL in spring training — at least Miguel Rojas is back?
Best-case scenario: The thing about baseball is the best team doesn’t always win it all. The Dodgers know this all too well after a decade spent finishing first or with more than 100 wins or both, with a ring from only that one bleak, brief season to show for it. But this time, that could work to their advantage because a slightly less dominant Dodgers team can still set its sights on winning it all.
Five years after Mookie Betts won MVP and three years after Freddie Freeman won MVP, they are both still MVP-caliber players who could contend for the award in 2023. Along with catcher Will Smith and Max Muncy (don’t let the struggles from last season fool you), the Dodgers have four dudes capable of hitting 30 home runs in 2023.
Ironically, under-performing (just a little!) in the first half might help the Dodgers have a more exciting season — instead of an excellently executed display of relatively anonymous depth and well-deployed relievers — if it forces the team to make a splashy trade for the kind of star they eschewed in the offseason. Lux’s injury seemed like especially painful irony after the Dodgers sat out the past two classes of free-agent shortstops, but if the right team is trending down (the Brewers?), L.A. could wind up with Willy Adames.
Noah Syndergaard skipped the chance to sign a longer-term deal elsewhere because he believed in the Dodgers’ ability to turn his post-Tommy John arm back into Thor’s hammer. Instead, in this scenario, they give him the tools to succeed without the velocity he flashed in New York. Elsewhere in the rotation, Dustin May puts together a season-long version of what he showed prior to his own T.J. in 2021, and Julio Urías contends for a Cy Young in his walk year, inspiring rampant speculation down the stretch about the kind of contract an ace will command when he hits the market at just 27 years old.
Worst-case scenario: This was the wrong year to stand pat, with the way the Padres approached the offseason. And that restraint didn’t even reset the Dodgers’ luxury-tax penalties (ahead of the Ohtani sweepstakes) since they’re on the hook for the majority of Trevor Bauer’s salary. The World Baseball Classic served as an uncomfortable testament to all the Dodgers lost when Trea Turner left in free agency, and elsewhere, lesser teams are applauding themselves for picking up Dodger-renovated pitchers Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney.
In the worst-case scenario, whatever magic worked on other pitchers fails to rehabilitate Syndergaard, now that he’s sitting in the lower-90s and never touching triple digits. Rojas looked like a smart pickup when the Dodgers traded for him to be their second-string, glove-first shortstop and a utility bench player. But the 34-year-old has only one above-average season offensively, and it came in the shortened 2020. The superstars atop the lineup are still superstars, but now they have a much less formidable bottom of the order coming behind them. It’s not enough to keep this team out of the postseason, but getting pushed into a wild-card series after being overtaken by the surging Padres down the stretch forces an even harsher reckoning than last year’s division series ouster.
Regardless of record, what would success look like in 2023? This is far from the only Dodgers preview that will center around their relatively quiet winter. In recent years, they’ve established a reputation for plugging every hole with headliners. But the sustainable success they’ve touted — becoming a model to aspiring MLB dynasties — means trusting their internal options as well. The injury to Lux is a tough blow to that plan, but the Dodgers are still eyeing at least a deep October run to meet expectations. With Kershaw not getting any younger and Urías set to hit free agency, getting relatively full, top-of-the-rotation campaigns from May and Tony Gonsolin would go a long way toward securing the future health of the franchise. — Keyser
San Diego Padres
Projected record: 94-68
Padres offer hundreds of millions of dollars to any superstar not nailed down; Trea Turner and Aaron Judge still end up elsewhere
Padres find a match — if not a fit — in shortstop Xander Bogaerts, sign him for 11 years, $280 million
Nelson Cruz and Matt Carpenter to form an Old Guys Vibing DH platoon in San Diego
Yu Darvish to stay in San Diego into his 40s after signing six-year, $108 million contract extension
Start sculpting the statue now: Manny Machado signs an 11-year, $350 million extension
Best-case scenario: In early November, Padres owner Peter Seidler hoists the Commissioner’s trophy above his head and says something super quotable about how this feeling would be worth a payroll twice the size. It dominates the discourse over the winter about whether this kind of rampant spending is “good for baseball,” but no one in San Diego cares.
By then, Fernando Tatis Jr.’s suspension to start the season is all but forgotten after he spends the second half on a tear reminiscent of 2021, with near-daily highlights of his daredevil feats of athleticism. Juan Soto enjoys hitting in a lineup with so much protection that he’s reportedly considering signing an extension rather than testing free agency after 2024. Bogaerts says something unintentionally shady about how he has never had this much fun playing baseball. And even with all the competition coming from his own lineup, Machado emerges as the clear MVP — of the team and of the National League.
Yu Darvish, Joe Musgrove and Blake Snell all stay healthy enough that the rotation’s lack of depth goes unexposed. And after the trade deadline has come and gone — with Shohei Ohtani still an Angel — reports leak about how hard A.J. Preller tried to strike a deal for the two-way star, leaving fans even more excited about what the winter might have in store.
Worst-case scenario: Building the whole team out of shortstops was a fine plan when they were just famous names attached to the Padres in tweets and headlines, but it works less well in practice — and that’s without taking into account some of the bigger personalities involved. It’s unfair to blame Tatis’ early struggles on steroids or even his being forced to the outfield when the much simpler explanation is that he simply hasn’t played major-league baseball in more than a year. Unfortunately, that doesn’t stop the critics, lending a sour taste to the team’s slow start.
Even without any injuries to the rotation, the Padres have only three starters who inspire much confidence; if any one of them goes down, things could get real dicey. In fact, even while they’re completely healthy, Seth Lugo figures to make more than a handful of starts — which he hasn’t done since 2017.
The Padres have it in them to be the most bandwagon-able team in baseball, but if they don’t live up to the lofty expectations that come with that, their roster construction decisions could come under scrutiny.
Regardless of record, what would success look like in 2023? The Padres pushed all their chips in on these next few years, selling the farm for household names and spending at eye-popping rates. In other words, they need to win now. The combination of immediate expectations and relative organizational irrelevance historically creates a kind of unprecedented mandate in San Diego: The team needs to bring home its first championship soon. — Keyser
San Francisco Giants
Projected record: 81-81
Massive Carlos Correa agreement falls apart over ankle concerns
Top exec Farhan Zaidi pivots to upside plays in Michael Conforto, Mitch Haniger
Ross Stripling, Sean Manaea join rotation after Carlos Rodón’s departure
Best-case scenario: Buoyed by bounce-backs and breakouts, the Giants cobble together a wild-card run. Michael Conforto — the former Mets slugger who missed the entire 2022 season after shoulder surgery — leads the way by returning to form as one of baseball’s 20 best hitters. Joc Pederson becomes the first Giants hitter to hit 30 homers in a season since Barry Bonds in 2004 (yes, really). And Thairo Estrada, a middle infielder who quietly had a 14-homer, 21-steal season in San Francisco last year, takes another step forward and establishes himself as an All-Star second baseman. Meanwhile, Brandon Crawford and LaMonte Wade Jr. find a middle ground between 2021 highs and 2022 lows, and recently acquired role players such as J.D. Davis and Blake Sabol once again make Zaidi look brilliant.
In the rotation, Ross Stripling’s breakout in Toronto carries over to the West Coast, and he dominates his former Dodgers teammates in several key late-season games, proving a capable No. 2 to Logan Webb. Flamethrowing closer Camilo Doval becomes more consistent by limiting walks and wildness, and the Rogers twins provide reliable setup work.
The Giants expanded the bounds of the phrase “best-case scenario” with their 107-win 2021 triumph, so perhaps this is underselling their potential, but one more overachieving playoff run would go a very long way in getting Giants fans past the pain of a traumatic hot stove season and perhaps building a bridge to a new crop of young talent headlined by pitcher Kyle Harrison and shortstop Marco Luciano.
Worst-case scenario: The no-stars, all-scrubs team turns out to be … exactly that. The risks of building mostly on the margins hit with full force, as Conforto and Mitch Haniger miss time before adequate replacements are ready. An infield full of short track records goes bust, and the lineup drags down an OK pitching staff in a tough division.
As Aaron Judge, Carlos Correa and Carlos Rodón thrive, the Giants sink into fourth place and appear to need major external additions to compete with even the Diamondbacks in coming years, to say nothing of the loaded Dodgers and Padres.
Regardless of record, what would success look like in 2023? All the interchangeable blocks that have characterized the Giants in recent seasons are great, in one sense. Gabe Kapler & Co. can sift for gold. But the problem when virtually your entire team is in the sifter is that it can get a little too volatile. In the post-Buster Posey, post-Brandon Belt era, the Giants need their next pillars. They probably have one in Logan Webb. Who else is joining him? A playoff berth would be great, but finding a second firm answer to that question would be plenty. — Crizer
Projected record: 75-87
D-backs get top catching prospect Gabriel Moreno, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. for Daulton Varsho
Corbin Carroll, NL Rookie of the Year favorite, agrees to historic extension with Arizona
Bullpen, bench get reinforcements in forms of Andrew Chafin, Miguel Castro, Evan Longoria
Barrage of pitching prospects on cusp includes Brandon Pfaadt, Drey Jameson
Best-case scenario: The rebuild is over. Contention is here. Corbin Carroll is to Arizona in 2023 what Julio Rodríguez was to Seattle in 2022, arriving as a superstar and helping pull the D-backs into the playoffs. That, of course, requires more than just Carroll. Zac Gallen contends for a Cy Young nod, Ketel Marte looks more like his 2021 self, and Alek Thomas and Jake McCarthy find their niche alongside Carroll in a riveting outfield.
The cavalcade of pitching prospects arrives with a flourish as Brandon Pfaadt, Drey Jameson and Ryne Nelson find their places on a staff behind Gallen and Merrill Kelly, with some in the bullpen and others forcing less exciting veterans out of the rotation. Gabriel Moreno, a 23-year-old catcher acquired in a trade with Toronto, flirts with .300 and proves a crucial hitter as Arizona chases a surprise trip to October.
In the end, outfield defense and strong pitching help the Diamondbacks clinch a wild-card berth over an NL East team with much, much higher spring expectations.
Worst-case scenario: The prospects just don’t pan out, at least not yet. As great as Carroll looked in his 32-game debut, he has a rougher adjustment period once pitchers begin picking apart his swing. Madison Bumgarner and Zach Davies don’t thrill on the mound, but moving on is tough because the rookies are taking their lumps.
D-backs GM Mike Hazen has said the team’s moves going forward will be focused on winning, and he made good on that in taking a big swing for Moreno, but it proves untenable. Hazen has to trade off some mid-career players and take another demoralizing step back at the deadline to find any real path toward contending in a tough division.
Regardless of record, what would success look like in 2023? Reason to believe. After a meteoric win-total rise in 2022, the Diamondbacks have enough young pieces to foresee wild-card contention either immediately or soon. No rebuild spits out a perfect parade of players, but if Carroll looks like a centerpiece with two or three significant role players joining the existing veterans, that’s a success that might at least instill some anxiety in San Diego, Los Angeles and San Francisco. — Crizer
Projected record: 65-97
Colorado plans move to second base for Ryan McMahon, signs Mike Moustakas
Cellar-dwelling Rockies ink Jurickson Profar to one-year deal
Rockies trade for intriguing power prospect Nolan Jones, option him to minors
Best-case scenario: Is there any chance extreme climate change flips the reality of altitude, gravity and baseball such that Colorado suddenly has an advantage instead of the typical institutional kneecapping? No? OK, well, the best-case scenario is probably a lot of homers for Kris Bryant, an exciting, dynamic rookie season for shortstop Ezequiel Tovar and plenty of good local beer on tap at Coors Field.
If Rockies fans get really lucky, maybe the front office will come to terms with this team’s station in life — dead-last in the NL West for the foreseeable future — and make trades that actually grapple with how to brighten the organization’s future.
Worst-case scenario: Team owner Dick Monfort and his willfully isolated baseball organization wander another year in the dark, blindfolded and swinging at the piñata of playoff contention while everyone else in baseball targets it with lasers.
Bryant, Charlie Blackmon, C.J. Cron and Randal Grichuk struggle with injuries and diminish whatever trade value they might have if the team came to its senses and attempted to restock the farm system with young talent.
The potential of new players — including Tovar, corner infielder Elehuris Montero and waiver claim Harold Castro — goes unexplored as retreads destined to leave Colorado before the next good team arrives soak up playing time.
Regardless of record, what would success look like in 2023? I know this sounds bleak, but sometimes acceptance is the first step in solving a problem. The Rockies need to accept that they do not currently have a baseball team on par with the rest of the division — nor a front office on par with the rest of MLB — and then make moves to solve that. A trade-deadline selling spree that brings back high-ceiling talent that at least somewhat corresponds with the timeframes of top prospects such as Tovar and outfielder Zac Veen would be a start. — Crizer